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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Defense Asks Judge to Acquit Pope

The attorney for U.S. businessman Edmond Pope asked a Moscow judge Friday to acquit his client of espionage charges, saying prosecutors had failed to make a case.

Defense lawyer Pavel Astakhov also warned that Pope would die in prison if sentenced to the maximum 20 years prosecutors have demanded, because of his weak health.

The former naval intelligence officer is accused of obtaining classified torpedo designs. He insists he is innocent, and his supporters say the plans for the high-speed, underwater Shkval torpedo were not classified.

Defense lawyer Andrei Andrusenko told the court on Friday that Russia cannot call the designs a state secret, as Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan also have the technology, and Kazakstan has sold Shkval missiles to China.

Astakhov then read his closing argument, which he had written in verse. He repeated fragments to reporters afterward:

?I call on you to open your eyes, tune in your ears and speak the truth from your lips. There is one truth. He is not guilty. ?To acquit him is a societal task, not just for you and me, but for all Russian society,? he said he told the judge.

Astakhov did not explain why he read the statement in verse, an extremely unusual move in Russia's somber, conservative court system. He praised the judge for recognizing its iambic pentameter, but said the court interpreter threw up his hands at the task of translating it.

Prosecutor Yuri Volgin would not comment on Friday's proceedings. The seven-week-old, closed-door trial adjourned until Wednesday, when Pope is expected to read his closing statement. A verdict is expected shortly afterward, Astakhov said.

The U.S. government has urged Pope's release, saying Russian authorities have not proved wrongdoing and citing his health. Pope, 54, suffers from bone cancer that was in remission when he came to Moscow in April. His family fears the cancer may have returned.

?A sentence of 20 years will mean a death sentence for Pope,? Astakhov said. ?Even representatives from the prosecution said they feel sorry for him because he is obviously suffering.?

Prosecutors want the judge to fine Pope 7 billion rubles ($250 million) in addition to the prison term for harming Russia's struggling military, though Pope's key accuser has recanted statements implicating him in espionage.

Pope, of State College, Pennsylvania, is founder of CERF Technologies International, a company specializing in studying foreign maritime equipment.